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Baseball: Sullivan shines, but Northwestern’s cold open to season continues

We may be witnessing a changing of the guard in regards to the team’s ace.

@NUCatsBaseball on Twitter

Two weekends ago, interim head coach Josh Reynolds finally got the heaviest monkey off his back: his first career win. In the first leg of a February 26 doubleheader at Santa Clara, his team earned him his first at the helm of the program, but promptly dropped the final two games of the series. Still, some felt that the ‘Cats could gain momentum now that they had finally tasted the indulgence of success.

Through three complete series, NU has now only enjoyed that sweet flavor twice. Last weekend, the Wildcats went 1-3 in a four-game set at Cincinnati against the Bearcats, putting their record at 2-10 through 12 games.

In the first game of a Friday doubleheader, Mike Doherty posted a clean first inning for the first time this year, yet yielded two runs (one unearned) in the second that put Cincinnati up 2-0. Northwestern responded fiercely with a two-run double from Stephen Hrustich in the third and an Anthony Calarco RBI single in the fifth to earn a 3-2 lead.

However, the NU train derailed from there. In his fifth inning of work, Doherty gave up two Cincy home runs before Coby Moe entered the game and failed to strand the Bearcat runners he inherited, surrendering an RBI double that gave Cincinnati a 5-3 lead. In its last opportunity to send the game to extras, Reynolds’ team inched closer courtesy of a Calarco sacrifice fly, but the ‘Cats stranded Hrustich at third and ultimately lost 5-4.

In Friday’s second meeting, first-year Sean Sullivan took the bump for Northwestern. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week encountered some early obstacles via a three-run UC first, but never gave up further damage. The southpaw went five innings, striking out seven, walking one and allowing just three runs, moving his ERA to 2.57 in the process.

As Sullivan stifled the Cincy offense, the ‘Cats’ bats awoke by their own measure. Hrustich and Calarco compiled two RBIs in the second frame, and Northwestern posted a gaudy six-spot in the sixth, highlighted by a Patrick Herrera RBI sacrifice bunt and a two-run Hrustich dinger. The Bearcats turned to late-game heroics to knot it at eight in the eighth by lighting up relievers Jack Dyke and Reed Smith, but first-year Bennett Markinson stroked a two-run, go-ahead single in the ninth that proved the dagger. Northwestern had earned its second win, prevailing by a score of 10-8 over its hosts.

The third battle of the series had a similar tone at first. With Michael Farinelli on the mound, the Bearcats opened yet another early lead, this one of the 1-0 variety. However, Hrustich smacked one over the fence to get the Wildcats on the board in the fourth.

The two squads traded blows in the late innings: UC went up 2-1 in the sixth, but shortstop Tony Livermore’s seventh inning RBI single to left field tied it at two. Despite receiving a jolt of energy, Farinelli ran out of steam in the seventh; Cincinnati plated two on a homer and never looked back, winning 4-2.

The run differentials through the first three matchups were awfully close, but the series finale took a turn for the ugly. NU obtained a quick advantage via an Ethan O’Donnell jack in the first, but Cincy tallied two home runs of its own in the bottom of the inning to lead 2-1. In the second, an RBI double from Herrera brought Luke Tanner home, but the Bearcats tacked on two more and secured a 4-2 edge.

From there, the game largely got out of hand. Cincy pounced on Wildcats starter Kellen Pate, scoring five runs between the fifth and sixth innings. Calarco and J.C. Santini brought runners to the plate in the seventh and eighth, respectively, but an eighth inning error by 3B Tommy D’Alise sparked a seven-run frame for the Bearcats. Northwestern wound up getting trounced, losing by a final score of 16-5.

The Wildcats’ 2-10 mark is their worst through 12 games since 2017, but a potential reason for optimism is on the horizon. Starting Friday, Northwestern returns to Rocky and Berenice Miller Park for its first home series of the year, where it will take on the 2-8 St. Thomas Bonnies. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.